How To Develop A Spiritual Journal Process of Spiritual Growth Sitemap of Dan Phillips Works Thoughts In Solitude With Merton Thomas Merton Retreats Spiritual Direction Workshops Thomas Merton - Monk and Poet A Pilgrimage to the Abbey of Gethsemani



Thoughts of Dan Phillips while reading Merton

"The things I thought were so important - because of the effort I put into them - have turned out to be of small value. And the things I never thought about, the things I was never able to either to measure or to expect, were the things that mattered."

Thomas Merton

To Previous Solitude Journal Entries

July 13, 2002

To: NBC-The West Wing
Near the end of the final show of the season you use an anonymous quote from a monk that supposedly justifies the President killing the terrorist. The quote is from Thomas Merton, a monk at Gethsemani in Kentucky, who died in 1968. It is based on a famous prayer of Merton's that says: My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going. I do not see the road ahead of me. I cannot know for certain where it will end..............ANYWAY John Spencer quotes that to Martin Sheen as an indication it is ok to assasinate the guy. The more I have thought of this, the more it BOTHERS ME because Thomas Merton was a pacifist !!!! In no circumstances would he have justified killing someone else. YOU TOOK HIM TOTALLY OUT OF CONTEXT.!!! Dan Phillips Editor Thomas Merton-Monk and Poet

James P. Casey has produced excellent calligraphy of Thomas Merton quotes. These are printed in italic on Japanese handmade, off-white paper, showing random embedded fibres, and mounted on a backing board. Walnut wood strips at top and bottom edges. Provision for hanging. Publisher's permission on back. 8" x 15 ".. $22 for each quote. For further information contact James P. Casey, 185 Coggeshall Avenue, Newport, R.I. 02840-4244. Or telephone: 401-847-5573

February 23, 2002

Just got back from retreat at Gethsemani. I don't sleep well on retreats. It is difficult for me getting on the monk's schedule. When I get home is when I get it all together.

MINI-REVIEW OF READING THOMAS MERTON - A GUIDE TO HIS LIFE AND WORK by Dr. John Laughlin. 218 pages. Reviewed by Dan K. Phillips

Dr. John Laughlin has presented us with an EXCELLENT guide to Thomas Merton. He has amplified on Merton's past, particularly his earlier years, by adding previously unpublished details of his families life. Also included is an extensive Chronology of Merton's Life, pictures surrounding Gethsemani, bibliographies, dissertations on Merton, essays by Merton along with reviews of them, journals, letters, and Merton websites (why did he not include this one hi!). It is a terrific book of information for a Mertonite. An indispensible comprehensive one volume work listing everything one needs about Merton in one volume. A MUST HAVEE REFERENCE WORK!

December 10 , 2001

Today is the 33rd anniversary of Thomas Merton's death, and yesterday, a commemorative statue was dedicated on the Bellarmine campus, close to the Merton Center. The statue was done by artist David Kocka. Iit's located in a lovely setting on a wooded path outside the Bellarmine chapel and depicts Merton in traditional Trappist robe and in work boots, reflecting the monks' mixture of prayer and work.

The Louisville Courier Journal reported, "Thomas Merton stood in the woods in a casual pose, looking as if he were about to turn and greet a passer-by with a grin that radiated out into dimples and furrows." His fellow monks and admirers unveiled a new bronze statue on a wooded hillside of the Bellarmine University campus in the crisp, clear December air yesterday in hopes of encouraging new generations to learn from his example.

"We have given him prominence because he has had such an impact on the church in this country and is one of the most renowned Catholic figures of the last century", said the Rev. Damien Thompson, the current abbot of Gethsemani.....we hope that the visibility of the statue to the students who come will arouse curiosity about the prayer life and move many to deeper comitment to their faith, which would have been his one desire." An inscription on a stone near the statue quotes from Merton: "There is only one thing to live for: love. And there is only one unhappiness: Not to love God."

The "new" statue is very similar to the one which appears at That one is by David Kocka, also, and is displayed in the Merton Center in a much smaller scale.

November 27, 2001- Late breaking news from Genesee

After thanksgiving dinner a surprise announcement awaited us on our bulletin board. Dom John Eudes shared with us the news that on the previous day he received official word that he has been appointed temporary superior at the monastery of Our Lady of the Philippines in, you guessed it, the Philippines. It seems that during the course of the visitation there it was deemed inopportune to hold an abbatial election at this time but rather to appoint a superior for a year or so to help them prepare for the election. Seeing this as an indication of the will of God for him Dom John Eudes agreed to accept the position. Just when he was settling into the hermit life and rather taking to it. The current plan is for him to leave Genesee for the Philippines in mid February. (John Eudes Bamberger was a close friend of Thomas Merton)--John Denburg is the new Abbot at Genesee.

JULY 22, 2001

The International Thomas Merton Society meeting in Louisville, Kentucky, in June, was absolutely stunning. Jonathan Montaldo and his troups did an outstanding job in planning and carrying out the program. For More details on the conference:

Over 400 persons attended, with over twenty percent of those from foreign countries.
Never have I seen such a knowledgeable group of persons. In every session one realized the depth of knowledge and commitment of the attendees. It was an exciting time of getting to know others who
appreciate Thomas Merton.

Thanks. Now, again, please read the results of the Bi-annual meeting in Louisville. Several pictures
are included on the page and results of the experience. It was great getting to meet so many new Merton friends in Louisville. Wasn't it GREAT!
nathan Montaldo!!!!

May 20 , 2001

Getting excited about the International Thomas Merton Society meeting in Louisville, June 7-10. Reservations made and ready to learn more about Father Louis. I look forward to meeting many of you there!!

APRIL 22, 2001

I have just completed reading the Monastic Vision of Thomas Merton by Lawrence Cunningham. A quite meaningful book. It really hits home as one realizes the importance of the monastery to Thomas Merton. I have also updated the latest Mertonretreat list. But am getting behind on other things. I need to make reservations for the International Thomas Merton Society Meeting in Louisville in June. It should be an exciting experience, especially since one day will be spent at the Abbey of Gethsemani and a time will be spent at the hermitage Thomas Merton lived in during his later years. Is anyone else planning on going?

FEBRUARY 24, 2001

Newsletter number 5 completed and sent out. Click on the sign at the right and send me your e-mail address if you didn't get it and it will be in the mail pronto!!! Or to go direct to Newsletter 1 or Newsletter 2 . Newsletter 3 and Newsletter 4 have already been sent. You can check any of them out on the clicks above.

JANUARY 28, 2001

BACK IN THE SADDLE AGAIN. It was an absolute disaster. My computer has been attacked by a virius that has kept me shut down since the later part of December. I hope everything will get back to order now. Anyone with retreat information please feel free to let me know. We have an EXTENSIVE new list of Merton retreats on the MERTONRETREAT page. You might wish to check it out.

DECEMBER 6, 2000

I have been reading Fragrant Palm Leaves by Thich Nhat Hanh, a Buddahist that Merton met before his death. It has been a very exciting and helpful book. I know why Merton had some interest in Buddahism now.

NOVEMBER 14, 2000

During the past few weeks I have been reading the last journal of Thomas Merton. It is the description of his final trip to Asia and shows his feelings and moods related to the trip. It was an exciting time for him. Everything is new in his own eyes. The high mountains he sees from the plane (including Mt. Everest) open new beautiful horizons for him. How about me? Do I see things new every now and then, or is my vision corrupted?

The Thomas Merton newsletter has really taken off. People seem to like it. Now all I need is information to fill it once a month or so. I have several new persons who have been added to the Merton e-mail list as a result.

AUGUST 25, 2000

Last week was great. My friend Wayne Burns and I spent the week at the Abbey of Gethsemani. Had great conversations with Brother Patrick Hart and our good friend Father Carlos Rodriquez.The highlight was going to Merton's Hermitage and going inside for the first time. I made several pictures which I hope to have on the web soon. It was a quite week. Very nice! And Peaceful!

JULY 27, 2000

I have been helped greatly by a sheet of paper I call " Process of Spiritual Growth." It helps with prayer and meditation. Please download the one page copy and place in your Bible. Let me know if it helps.

JULY 13, 2000

Recently I have begun listening to the liturgies from the Monastery of the Holy Cross in Chicago, Illinois. They broadcast all seven services each day via real audio. For further information go to their web site

JUNE 16, 2000

The following are book reviews by Rev. Wayne Burns, who publishes a daily Merton Quote and sends it via e-mail to those who request it. Also, the Mertonretreat list has been updated with several new retreats listed and the Merton Link section has been updated with beside new weblinks.

Dear Merton Readers:

During the last number of days, I have read two books that you may or may not have read. I will give a brief review of eachone. You might like to read them if you have not. Review of SILENT LAMP: The Thomas Merton Story, by William H. Shannon, 1992. If you are interested in Thomas Merton, you will find this book most helpful and interesting. The book contains many good pictures, and Shannon puts a historical table in each chapter. The table gives dates and titles of books and related events. For example, on December 31, 1962, U.S. forces in Vietnam numbered 10,000, and in 1962 , Merton wrote NEW SEEDS OF CONTEMPLATION. Naomi Burton Stone writes of the SILENT LAMP, "The best book about Thomas Merton that I have read." It is a good book.

Review of THE INTIMATE MERTON: His Life from His Journals, edited by Patrick Hart and Jonathan Montaldo, 1999. If you desire to understand and know Thomas Merton, you must read his journals. His journals are amazing. Merton began keeping journals when he was sixteen. There are seven volumes of his journals. In THE INTIMATE MERTON, the authors do an outstanding job in connecting important events in the life and writings of Merton through his journals. Ever since I read the first Merton journal, I have been amazed at how he detailed his search for God and community as a Monk. If you have not read the journals, THE INTIMATE MERTON will move you in that direction. As Merton wrote, "My best writing has always been in journals." Thanks for your time. I just thought you might be interested in these two books. Wayne Burns!!!

April 7, 2000

Well, a little updating is in order. On March 18, 2000, we had the Thomas Merton Retreat at St. Paul's United Church of Christ in New Orleans. It lasted from 9 a.m. to 3:15. The host pastor was Rev. Tom Warren, with Karen Charbonnet as the host. We had a total of 19 people attend the retreat and they really seemed to enjoy it.

"Dear Dan, I attended your day of retreat in New Orleans March 18.....It was a special day...your use of symbols has sparked me to be more aware of this speaking of God to me. Enjoyed your beginning introduction to Merton by sharing with us his key points in his journey....then the reflection on the psalms...really encouraged me to use this prayer form... And the final fire watch reading and discussion is ongoing for me. I am also going to your internet site and the merton site and pulled up so much great reading. Thanks for sharing with us on that Saturday..Hope it was also a good visiting and relaxing time for you with your family." Vickie Laurent


March 18, 2000

Rev. Dan Phillips lead a Merton Retreat titled, "Thomas Merton - Speaking to Us in Today's World," at St. Paul's United Church of Christ in New Orleans, Louisiana on March 18, 2000, from 9 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. 19 people attended. Thanks to pastor Tom Warren we had a great day!

"Dear Dan, I attended your day of retreat in New Orleans March 18.....It was a special day...your use of symbols has sparked me to be more aware of this speaking of God to me. Enjoyed your beginning introduction to Merton by sharing with us his key points in his journey....then the reflection on the psalms...really encouraged me to use this prayer form... And the final fire watch reading and discussion is ongoing for me. I am also going to your internet site and the merton site and pulled up so much great reading. Thanks for sharing with us on that Saturday..Hope it was also a good visiting and relaxing time for you with your family." Vickie Laurent

Thanks Tom Warren. 504-899-5183 . St. Paul's United Church of Christ in New Orleans is located at 616 Eleonore Street and is pastored by Rev. Tom Warren.

F(The Rain, Thomas Merton, And My Soul)

It's been a lifetime trying'

to outrun the rain

and now I'm tired,

my feet hurt,

and I'm soaking wet.

Time it is now to sit in the downpour

and revel in its essence,

to hear its sound among trees,

to nod and smile to the rooftop tapping of simple gifts--

a code spelling loving graces.

Time to take refuge and rest,

In the rain, Thomas Merton, and my soul.


(To continue reading this journal go to SOLITUDE).

I have recently redesigned the Abbey of Gethsemani - A Pilgrimage. It is much more readable and should be more enjoyable. Please take time to give it a look and bookmark it should you decide to go on a retreat to the Abbey of Gethsemani.The NEW URL is going great. Remember all you need to type at the address point to get to the Merton Monk and Poet page is

December 10 , 1999 (Sunday)

Today is the anniversary of Merton's Death (31 years) and also the anniversary of his entering Gethsemani (1941). Recently, in the Other Side of the Mountain, I read Merton's description of himself. "Thougtless, impulsive, lazy, self-interested, yet alien to myself, untrue to myself, following the most stupid fantasies, guided by the most idiotic emotions and needs." It made me stop and think. So how would I describe myself? "Restless, consumed with the framework of life, little time for meditation, unable to succeed with the big dreams, fantasies rule, little time for self, time-consumed." You get the idea. What about you? How would you describe yourself?

Well winter is almost here. It has been the most beautiful fall I can remember. Warm. Trees excitingly beautiful. Colors everywhere. A reminder of the good days of God's earth. An autumn of Eden like spring. I find myself reminded of Thoreau's Walden for some reason: "If one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams and endeavors to live the life which he has imagined, he will meet with a success unexpected in common hours." Now the Advent season. A year ago this week, I was at Gethsemani celebrating its 150 anniversary. Such a memorable occassion thanks to Father Carlos. This is also - and must I be reminded of this - a time to pray! Thanks to you for the support of this web site. If you know of other Merton weblinks I should add please mail the URL to me. Thanks!

October 31, 1999 (Sunday)

Get this book as soon as you can! Absolutely terrific. Father Matthew Kelty's My Song is Mercy, Merton's friend and fellow monk has written a superb book, not only about Merton, but of the monastic life. Flute Solo is out of this world.

I have recently redesigned the Abbey of Gethsemani - A Pilgrimage. It is much more readable and should be more enjoyable. Please take time to give it a look and bookmark it should you decide to go on a retreat to the Abbey of Gethsemani.

I have also been given the book, 15 days of Prayer With Thomas Merton, which I am working on a book review. Lots of excitement about Merton on the West Coast. Big things coming from that direction. If you know of Merton Links not included on these pages, please let me know. The NEW URL is going great. Remember all you need to type at the address point to get to the Merton Monk and Poet page is:

October 21, 1999 (Thursday)

I continue reading The Other Side of the Mountain, Merton's last journal. "A dark, wet night. Yesterday much of the snow melted and when I woke rain was falling." (Jan.31, 1968)

Spent last Sunday viewing Kay Barnetts photography of the 17 Trappist Monasteries she had visited. The viewing at Downtown Presbyterian Church in Nashville was Terrific! Terrific! She had one picture of Father Kelty from Gethsemani which was great. I continue receiving excellent e-mail. Thanks so much to all who read this. I have a couple of retreats for 2000-2001 which I haven't added yet. Hope to do so soon, maybe even allow you to read some of the nice comments from others. I am now serving as a chaplain for a local hospice and pastor of a church about 30 miles away. Putting in lots of time, so don't have as much time for Merton as I wish for, but he certainly continues to be a blessing to my life.

I have also been given the book, 15 days of Prayer With Thomas Merton, which I am working on a book review. Lots of excitement about Merton on the West Coast. Big things coming from that direction. If you know of Merton Links not included on these pages, please let me know. The NEW URL is going great. Remember all you need to type at the address point to get to the Merton Monk and Poet page is:

September 24, 1999

I have been reading The Other Side of the Mountain, Merton's last journal. I am always amazed at how his descriptions of the weather move me. "Still bitter cold" (2/20/68), "Zero yesterday and below 20 tonight" (2/12/68), and "Bright morning - freezing, but less cold than before" (2/13/68). Somehow the weather conditions seem to reflect Merton's life from a spiritual standpoint. I have discovered that the more in tune he is with the weather, the more in tune he is with God's direction within his own life.

What are the weather conditions in your spiritual life.


August 17, 1999

On August 17th, Wayne Burns and I went to St. Bernard Abbey in Cullman, AL. We met with Father Jose Ramon Mascareno. He entered Gethsemani at the same time as Merton and worked beside him for 5 years. "We couldn't stand each other," he said. Merton was "clumsy, grieving over the death of the woman and child (he fathered) who died." "He was at the monastery to do penance," he added. "When I was told later about the Seven Storey Mountain by Merton, I said, I don't remember at monk at Gethsemani named Merton." I began reading the book and realized it was Father Louis. Unfortunately he never mentioned me in the book and I got mad and quit reading it! Father Jose is 89 and "God's work has been remarkable in my life," he says. Now, at 89, he says Mass three times a week in Birmingham, Huntsville, and other places in North Alabama because he is the only Priest who speaks Spanish in the area. Yes, God continues to use all of us if we let him. --

August 8, 1999

An exciting week. Went to Mepkin Monastery in Mepkin, S.C. It is a beautiful place. The gardens are superb, and the crosses with the graves of Henry Luce and Clare Booth Luce were meaningful to me, especially since they provided the funds for Mepkin Abbey. Participated in the vesper service on Thursday Night. The guests were invited by the monks to sit in the choir with the monks. Other monasteries usually keep the guests separate. I met Father Joseph who came to Mepkin in 1949. He entered Gethsemani in 1944. There were also two Methodist students who attended Duke Divinity School. I enjoyed talking with them. A monastery is always a special place to attend. A chance to center ones thoughts and listen for the voice of God.

July 18, 1999

This is another attempt at improving this Thomas Merton Site. I received my Merton Seasonal a couple of days ago and have been reading the book review by Bob Grip. I am also looking forward to reading Paul Pearson's article about Rilke and Merton, as well as another article about Kerouac and Merton. An exciting issue!

I am always appreciative of mail and, hopefully, can begin soon to share some of these nice e-mails with you.

June 15, 1999 (Monday) - Updates

On June 3th I had the opportunity of going to the Monastery of the Holy Spirit in Conyers, Georgia. For many years I have wanted to see this monastery which began in a barn. I only got to stay two hours, but spent most of that time in the sanctuary praying. Since many spanish persons are now living in the Georgia area, many of them are attending the monastery regularly. In fact, if I understand it correctly, the monastery is beginning another monastery in Venezuela. It is amazing sometimes how the work of the Lord continues in ways we do not understand. Praise the Lord!

May 10, 1999 (Monday) - Burns Returns

Spent the last couple of days with Wayne Burns. We discussed lots of Merton and when, and where, our next visit to a monastery will be. Wayne Burns daily quote of Merton has become quite popular. I am always surprised at how many people wish to read something of Merton's each day.

April 29, 1999 (Thursday) - Rain Again and Again!

Have a desire to do more Merton Retreats. Need some opportunities. Praying for open doors.

April 19, 1999 (Thursday) - Rain Again

I went to the Abbey of Gethsemani on Thursday, April 15th. True to form it RAINED! Everytime I go it rains. I went to Father Louis Merton's grave and made a discovery that I had not noticed before. Besides him is a monk who was buried in April of 1987. Looking closer I realized it was Abbot James Fox. I thought of how many times Fox played the "foil guy" for Merton, yet today they are buried side by side. That seemed meaningful to me.

On Saturday I spoke at Campbellsville Baptist University at the Midwest Conference on Literature and Christianity. My topic was Thomas Merton. I spoke after Dr. Patrick O'Connell who spoke about Thoreau and Merton. It is always great to see Merton friends. Patrick has done so much for Merton through the Merton Seasonal.

There was quite a bit of interest in Merton. Several went to the monastery on Saturday following the conference. I received a note from one who went who said, "It rained while we were there."

April 8, 1999 (Thursday) -Remembrances

25 years ago today, I was in Atlanta Stadium watching Henry Aaron hit home run #715. Which, of course, has nothing to do with Thomas Merton, except that I felt the Lord prepared for me a way to be there to see it!

How many times does the Lord prepare a way for us to be encouraged in the faith? I have been preparing for the conference I will lead on April 17, 1999, at Campbellsville Baptist University. I have been re-reading this morning Sign of Jonas, one of my favorite Merton books. In it he describes what monastic life is like. "It is a life of prayer and of penance, of liturgy, study, and manual labor." And he continues, "Much more important are the events that take place in the depth of a monk's soul." That is certainly something to think about, or more closely to home, what are the events taking place in our own souls?

March 6, 1999 (Saturday) -The Mysterious Chair

On February 22, 1999, I received an urgent request from Dana Pirulli, an editor at Guideposts Magazine. "I need your help. I am trying to verify a quote by Thomas Merton. It is: "Build a chair as if an angel was going to sit on it." I am under a deadline and need to know by Friday, February 26th."

After sending out the quote to my Merton mailing list, I received answers from many people, including Abbot John Eudes Bamberger, Father Patrick Collins, and numerous others. Many said, "That does not sound like a Merton quote to me." Finally, the exact quote came from Dr. Paul Pearson, Secretary of the Thomas Merton Society of Great Britain and Ireland. The exact quote is: "The peculiar grace of a Shaker chair is due to the fact that it was made by someone capable of believing that an angel might come and sit on it." (Page xiii of Merton's introduction to Religion in Wood by Edward Demming Andrews). Wow! That was a challenge. Paul's Merton website in Great Britain is excellent. You might check it out!

Interesting footnote: After all that e-mail between the whole world about that chair quote, on March 4th, a local person called me and said, "Dan, I got a FAX OF LIFE message from a minister in Nashville today. He sends out a FAX to his mailing list quite often. Today he quoted Thomas Merton. I would like to read the quote," and guess what--it was the same chair quote! AMAZING I SAID! Wonder what the Lord is trying to tell me.

Nice note from Kathy Stacey of Greeen Harbor, MA. "Loved your pages on Thomas Merton. I went to a "Silence and Solitude" retreat at LaSalette Shrine in Attleboro, MA. I had not previously known much about Merton. I wqas intrigued by the many threads of connectivity that linked me with Merton." She also mentions: "Thank you for these words from your journal: "Thomas Merton brings people together. Like a genie in a bottle, his influence in people's lives goes far beyond what one can imagine." Interesting how I had forgotten that quote ha!

And finally, from Wayne Burn's Mornings With Merton, "Prayer and love are really learned in the hour when prayer becomes impossible and your heart turns to stone." "Why are some things so hard to learn," Burns asks?

February 20, 1999 (Saturday) -Run to the Mountain

I have just gotten through reading a delightful book from Jon Katz about an experience he had on a isolated mountaintop in New York while reading Thomas Merton books. Several months ago (in November) Katz publicity manager, Brian McLendon, sent an uncorrected proof copy of Running to the Mountain. In a hand written note, McLendon said, "Running to the Mountain began it's life as a biography of Merton but becaume something else entirely."

With those words I began the pilgrimage with Jon Katz. Certainly I enjoyed the book! It was an exciting experience. But we began a e-mail correspondence. I felt the excitement in his heart with his experience. I could sense the presence of Thomas Merton in Katz. I tried to persuade him to come to Tennessee and for us to go to the Abbey of Gethsemani for a day or two. Unfortunately, he caught pneumonia when a tree fell on the mountainside house during a fiesty snow storm and ended up breaking his foot in a freak accident.

I highly recommend Running to the Mountain. I have an extensive review of Running to the Mountain worth reading. Please check it out!

February 2, 1999 (Wednesday) -Bringing Together

Thomas Merton brings people together. Like a genie in a bottle, his influence in people's lives go far beyond what one can imagine. For instance, in 1970 I lived in Louisville, Kentucky, while attending seminary. One of my hobbies was writing poetry. It was through poetry that I met Thomas Merton. His poems were in a book I bought titled, "The Voice Within Us." That was my first meeting with Merton. In 1972 I graduated from seminary and found myself without a job. For 3-4 months I was lost. During that period I read in the Louisville Courier-Journal about a poet named "the blue noodle" coming to Louisville. This resulted in me taking a class with William Cohen, who became a big influence on my poetic style. I even wrote about him in my story, San Francisco - The Poet.

In December of this year, I wrote about Dianne Aprile's book Abbey of Gethsemani - Place of Peace and Paradox. (The Abbey of Gethsemani was the monastery where Merton lived for those who do not know) In my original writings I spelled her name wrong. This resulted in an e-mail and a meaningful correspondence. And it was during those e-mails that it was discovered, "Dianne Aprile wrote the original article in the Louisville Courier-Journal that caused me to go join the Blue Noodle workshop. Merton Again, Right?

January 6, 1999 (Wednesday) -Friends of Merton

I have been fascinated by different people who have links to the Thomas Merton Site. For the most part they are thinkers and spiritually awake to God's work. I am going to begin developing a Friends of Merton page that list each of them and the work they do. For now you might wish to check out St. Mary's College in Ipswich, Australia and their Famous Catholics Page. Or Anne Remmington's House of Anne. She is a terrific artist!

December 26, 1998 (Wednesday) -The Monastery

The day after Christmas. Nothing more perfect. Listening for first time to Barbra Streisand's Concert highlights CD received for Christmas and reading Merton's Turning Toward the World.

On Monday, December 21, 1998, went to the Abbey of Gethsemani for the 150th anniversary celebration. Father Carlos made it a most excellennt and memorable experience for Brother Burns and myself.

We ate in the monk's refectory where the monks and visitors talked for the first time in 50 years. Got a complete tour of the monastery, except for monk's cells. One terrific experience.

"He loved to go far into the desert, often seeking solitude. And there he spent his days in prayer, asking the Lord that in his mercy he would be delivered from all deception." (Vita Pachomii-- page 340 Turning-Merton)

December 9, 1998 (Wednesday) -The Abbey Book

Diane Aprile's 150th anniversary book of the Abbey of Gethsemani - Place of Peace and Paradox is terrific. You can order from Amazon for $39.95 plus postage. I got my copy yesterday and spent most of the evening reading it. I completed almost a third of the book. It is a wonderful book. I was especially fascinated by the history of the Cistercian order, as well as the early days of the monastery.

December 3, 1998 (Wednesday) - Heretic Blood

While attending the ITMF meeting in Mobile, Alabama, one of my roommates was Michael Higgins. He was working on a audio production for the Canadian Broadcasting Company while we were there. Last night the production played on the CBC. Higgins production was heard by many people last night. I can tell because I got the most hits I have ever gotten on Merton yesterday.

A special website, Heretic Blood: The Spiritual Geography of Thomas Merton, is available which gives information about ordering Higgins Book and the tapes from the CBC. Please check it out! Mike--Great Work!

 November 18, 1998 (Wednesday) - Stars and Solitude

Last night was the Leonids Meteor Shower. I got up shortly after midnight and drove several miles where a couple of friends and I spent an hour watching the shooting stars. We saw about 20 meteors in all, then got cold and I came home and went to bed.

While reading Merton's Journal, Turning Toward the World, I found this quote from December 25, 1962 (Christmas Day). "After Vigils, for a half moment that made sense, I stood outside in the darkness with snow falling on my cheeks and listened to the deep silence of the woods at midnight! If we are thinking of Cuba and shepherds, let us then remember that it was in such silence as this that the shepherds watched their flocks! And heard the message of God."

Somehow it all seemed to fit. Watching the meteors! Maybe we are like the shepherds watching the sky. But, do we hear the message being sent? It certainly was food for thought for me.

October 7, 1998 (Wednesday) - The Abbey

I have been re-reading Michael Mott's biography of Merton. I had forgotten how thorough and excellent it was.

September 11, 1998 (Tuesday) - The Abbey

I have just completed my essay about my trip to Merton's monastery. The Abbey of Gethsemani - A Pilgrimage, tells the story of the time I was there. It was a meaningful time in my life. Please give it a prayerful read!

August 28, 1998 (Tuesday) - Beginning Again

This summer has been another of those challenging times in life that one looks back on with wonder. Wonder that is that you survived it at all!

I am reading Turning Toward the World, volume 4 (1960-1963) of Merton's Journals. His quote of February 27, 1962, turns out to be rather prophetic. "From a human and rational viewpoint there is every chance of a disastrous war in the next three to five years." Interestingly, the Vietnam War began during the period Merton predicted.

I am also reading The Silent Life which I am really enjoying. It is more meaningful because from July 13-16, 1998, I made my first retreat at The Abbey at Gethsemani in Trappist, Kentucky.

My friend Wayne Burns and I went together. One of the first things I did upon arrival was go to the library, where I was greeted by a sign saying, "Silence is spoken here." In our rooms was another note saying, "Silence: To foster and preserve the atmosphere of prayer, retreatant rooms, corridors, library and dining room are places of silence at all times. This practice is fundamental to the Gethsemane retreat experience and a courtesy to others."

I must admit that for two Baptists to be let loose at a Trappist Monastery has its hazards. We did have difficulty keeping quiet at times, although we tried to keep things to a dull roar. I was mindful of a quote of Merton's one time when he was speaking of students coming from the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky, to visit him: "Oh no! The Baptist are Coming! I talk too much when they are here!" Please forgive us!

Another sign summed up Gethsemani: "As sign and witness, Gethsemani is a place to live the Christian life, to grow in the Pentecost Spirit, and to proclaim the Good News of the Kingdom."

For the three days we were there it rained. That made the Rain and the Rhinoceros essay come to mind several times, especially as we hiked to the hermitage Merton inhabited in a downpour. On the porch was a chair with the notation "Bench of Dreams." The sign on the door said, "Shalom."

I plan on writing an essay on the experience soon and will let you know about it. For now, I can sum up Gethsemani with these words, "There was always a hot cup of coffee available."

While there I wrote the following brief notation:

I have come to a conclusion that we have missed the truth of the gospels.

We have made their message to easy. We have clothed it in a secular hi-fi ism. We have claimed a God without sacrifice. We have blaimed others for our own infidelities. Our patience has grown dim and we have cast out the fallen brother.

We have not seen the hurt in our neighbors eye, yet still call ourselves Christian.

So thanks Father Carlos, Brother Paul, Sister Helen, Laura, Lucile, and Karen, for making the experience pleasant and meaningful.

If you can't wait for my total experience at the monastery, you can read Retreat to the Abbey of Gethsemane by John Barich.

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